When I was child, I clung to the gospel truths I was taught and never really questioned them. I knew that good feelings come from truth. As a teenager, I asked to know if this was the true Church, but only because I knew that’s what I was supposed to do; it was out of obedience, not out of a sincere desire to know. That desire came later.
As a young adult, I’ve learned the importance of real intent when praying and asking to know the truthfulness of this gospel (see Moroni 10:4). I learned that true conversion to the gospel comes as a result of my behavior (living the gospel) but also as a result of my desire and intentions. It’s not enough to just act. We have to act with real intent and experience an ongoing refining of that intent. The prophets of the Book of Mormon often talk about acting with real intent—and not just when it comes to finding truth: repenting with real intent (see Moroni 6:8), following the Son with real intent (see 2 Nephi 31:13), and praying with real intent (see Moroni 7:9).
We often talk about the physical actions (attending church meetings, reading the scriptures, ministering) rather than mental and spiritual motivations behind those actions, but those are even more important. True conversion and true progress come when I consistently refine both my behavior and my intentions. Mental and spiritual motivations are actions too—internal actions. And we need both internal and external actions to experience lasting conversion.
No matter where your heart’s intention is, your internal and external state of being is a start. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles teaches us: “The perfect place to begin is exactly where you are right now. It doesn’t matter how unqualified you may think you are or how far behind others you may feel. The very moment you begin to seek your Heavenly Father, in that moment, the hope of His light will begin to awaken, enliven, and ennoble you soul” (“The Hope of God’s Light,” Ensign, May 2013, 75). From there, the crucial part is whether you’ll continue to find and nurture the righteous desire and sincere intent behind your choices.
A good indication to assist you in knowing if you’re on the right track is if your will is becoming more in line with God’s will and not your own. For example, you don’t act of your own selfish desires but rather the desire to serve God and His children because you love Him and are striving to love others, no matter what others say or do, trusting in Him that understanding, empowerment, and healing will come. A great deal of resilience and perseverance are entailed with this, but I know as we continually seek for our Heavenly Father’s help and guidance, our intentions will become more divine and our will more and more in line with the Father’s.
I’m a big fan of self-reflection. Self-reflection is open communication with yourself, or what I like to call “getting real.” You take an honest look at your weaknesses, strengths, temptations, joys, and the relationships you have in your life (including your relationships with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ). Take it all into account, and own it. Next, figure out what behaviors or habits you want to change or develop in correspondence with what desires and intentions you need to develop or shift to achieve that. Taking time to assess the actions of our minds and hearts is key to determining what our desires and intentions are. From there we can work with Heavenly Father to improve our intentions, behavior, and character.